By Justin M. Norton
After decades of standing in front of amplifiers Scott “Wino” Weinrich has decided to unplug. The Saint Vitus frontman, also legendary in metal circles for his work with The Obsessed, will release his first ever-acoustic album Adrift in early March. It’s a powerful record marked by Wino’s signature snarling voice, inspired acoustic playing and themes of loss, friendship and rebellion. He just finished a short acoustic tour with his Shrinebuilder bandmate and close friend Scott Kelly of Neurosis. And he has plans to write more acoustic music in the future even as Vitus returns to the studio after a long hiatus and continues touring.
It’s been a long road for Wino, who battled addiction and suffered through poverty. When The Obsessed disbanded in 1994 despite a deal with Columbia Records he was strung out and desperate. He was convinced he would die if he didn’t return to his native Maryland and find a way to get straight. He moved back in with his parents but continued to drink and use drugs until 1996. His decision to change his life came after he took a massive dose of psychedelic mushrooms and walked around The National Mall. It’s not what you would call a typical first step to rehabilitation. After that fateful experience Wino says he didn’t drink for years and became a stay at home father while continuing to write music. “It was really heavy,” he says. “In the middle of the trip I knew what I needed to do. The next day I woke up and I was still pretty high and went down to the liquor store and ordered a large beer. I chugged it and I quit drinking.”
Fortune seems to have finally swung in Wino’s directions. Although his music was beloved in the underground it was difficult to make a living. Now Saint Vitus is getting more attention than ever and his side projects are also successful. He’s been around a half-century but seems more vital than ever. He’s drinking again but has let go of the self-destructive urges that upended his early years. Wino talked to Hellbound about why he’s interested in following a similar path as Johnny Cash and the power of a man alone with a guitar.
Have you always wanted to work on a primarily acoustic album?
I didn’t really think about it until a little while ago. I’d been over to Germany and I was playing guitar one day and someone asked me if I had ever considered an acoustic record. It was a few years ago but I wasn’t feeling it and I just wasn’t interested. There were a strange set of circumstances that led me to playing acoustic live for the first time. It was pretty bad. I decided if I was going to do it I was going to do it right so I sat down and just wrote a few acoustic songs. After that I felt a little more confident. Then I did Punctuated Equilibrium and our bass player died unexpectedly. That’s when I started to warm up for gigs with the acoustic and it felt good.
You are bandmates with Scott Kelly in Shrinebuilder and are touring with him playing acoustic music. Scott’s done two acoustic albums – did you talk to him when you started working on this material?
I did. I asked him about a lot of stuff. He’s a good guy to go to for advice. He’s been doing this for a while. We played the songs we’re doing together for the first time last night and I think it’s going to be really cool.
What’s the difference after a career playing with Saint Vitus and The Obsessed? Does playing acoustic make you feel more exposed? Or is it a bigger challenge?
Both, actually. You don’t have a big wall of sound behind you. It’s you and your instrument. It’s a challenge but I like a challenge. Recording Adrift was much harder than I though it would be. I thought it would be a breeze but it ended up being a real learning experience.
When you were writing Adrift did you write the acoustic parts first and add texture with electric guitar when you thought it was appropriate?
That’s basically how I did it. I was a little paranoid. I didn’t know the record was going to be received well since this is my first stab at this. I was a little nervous.
When people think acoustic it seems like a lost art. Johnny Cash played at Folsom and that had a lot of soul but now some people are as likely to think about something goofy like Jewel. Would you like to see a renewed appreciation for what one person can do with an instrument?
That’s kind of what we’re trying to do. That’s the approach we want.
Do you listen to a lot of old blues?
Not really. I don’t really listen to the blues because I don’t really sing the blues. I’m more about looking forward even if some people might disagree. Some of my songs are dark. But it’s important not to dwell on things. My songs usually end positively, somewhat (laughs). Maybe? I really appreciate the influence blues has on our society and the music we make but I haven’t exploited those sounds that much.
“I Don’t Care “ seems like an updated version of “Born Too Late.”
There’s a little bit of sadness and a little bit of anger in both.
The 90s were a tough decade for you. What do you make of the fact that it’s 2011 and you are hitting a creative peak as an artist and your old bands are finally getting the attention they deserve?
I’m pretty stunned to be honest with you. I never thought this would happen, especially with Adrift. I never in a million years thought we’d be talking about Saint Vitus now but here we are on the move again. It’s all looking pretty good, and it’s unusual. But it’s o.k. with me. When I turned 50 I realized it was time to loosen up. I decided not to worry as much and realized I’d be o.k. if I had a few beers. I had an attitude change. I’m not as uptight anymore.
So there’s no longer a temptation to get smashed anymore?
No, although I do like to party a little bit. But I just have way too many responsibilities to let it get the best of me. Relative moderation.
Is it interesting to tour with Scott who is completely sober?
He doesn’t care if I have a beer or whatever. He can handle it if it’s in front of him. He’s an inspiration to me. He stays true and he stays pure. I’ll probably end up drinking less on this tour because he is my partner.
Could you see a time where you and Scott could record together acoustically?
We’re planning on it already so we’ll see what happens. I don’t feel like it’s that far away. Last night we had quite an interesting set.
What’s the musical chemistry like between you two?
It seems to be pretty good. He doesn’t tout himself as a player’s player but the reality is that he is pretty damn good. I only caught up with his career recently. Once I got to know his whole story I was kind of blown away. He’s got a deep story and a lot of tragedy he’s overcome. He’s managed to soldier on. I wrote the song “Dbear” about him. He tripped out that I wrote a song about him. He’s one of those people who I feel like I’ve always known. “Dbear” just came from divine inspiration, it just sort of happened. I was just thinking about his life and situation and I just wrote it.
Vitus has been touring a lot .. are you working on new songs?
We’re already doing new material. I wrote the lyrics to a song we played live on our last European tour. It went over really well. We’re getting together to work on an album in June or July. We’re going to go to (drummer) Henry’s (Vasquez) house and record.
I imagine it will be interesting recording with those guys…it’s been a while since you’ve been in the studio together.
I think it’s going to be easier because the older you get the more times you’ve done it. I’ve been at this for a long time now and I’ll be ready to do my part.
Why does Vitus continue to resonate?
Because it comes from the gut. The music has that low tone and it hits you in those emotional places. I’ve always tried to make the lyrics just as interesting as the music. It’s always been a little bit dark but I’m not drawn to the happy stuff. I like music that grabs you by the balls.
Adrift is out now on Exile On Mainstream Records. Saint Vitus will be on the Metalalliance Tour along with Helmet and Crowbar in March.